A Plea For Consistency

By Jeff Belknap

I recently posted a question to Bible Matters

“Consider the following scenario:

What if a man put away his wife (NOT for fornication), then later repented and repeatedly sought to remarry her - but the wife refused to reconcile?  Would not that man be deemed as an “innocent" at this time?

Now, what if the wife later met another man and married him? Could the original husband subsequently ‘put away’ his bound wife for fornication and remarry another? (The bond was still intact at the point his estranged wife married another, and he was holding true to his vows and the bond.)

If the same ‘right’ to the exception clause in Matthew 19:9a applies to the ‘innocent” put away person, then would this man be justified in ‘putting away’ his bound mate for the cause of her post-divorce fornication? If not, why not?  Remember: the bond is still intact.”

Answer posted on the same day:

“Brother Belknap seems to have forgotten Matthew 5:32. By putting away his wife without the cause of fornication, the putting-away man ‘CAUSED’ her to commit adultery when she married another. ‘Innocence’ is defined by Jesus. Both have sinned. She sinned in her remarriage and he was complicit in her sin. She was guilty of fornication, but he caused it. Jesus did not grant the right of remarriage to this man.

Once again, in his zeal to abolish the God-given right of a truly innocent spouse to put away a fornicator-mate and marry another, brother Belknap misses the whole point of the passage. Sadly, he has a habit of doing this.”


I am in agreement with my brother who has recently verified that a person who has already put away their spouse (NOT for fornication), may NOT later “put away” and remarry, regardless of subsequent circumstances (i.e. repentance for the unlawful putting away and attempts to reconcile with the one that was put away). 

This brother reasoned that because the man had divorced his wife, he caused her to commit adultery (Matthew 5:32), and was not eligible for remarriage. 

While I agree with my brother’s conclusion, I cannot agree with his explanation of why. After the man’s fruits of repentance, it was solely the wife’s decision to remain separate.    

The reason why the man’s remarriage to another would result in sin is because: 1) Jesus never authorized a post-divorce “putting away”; and 2) Jesus stated in the “a” portions of Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18 that remarriage to another after unlawfully divorcing one’s spouse ends in adultery.      

There is no scriptural authority for anyone who unlawfully puts away their mate to remarry another – regardless of what takes place after the divorce, as long as one’s bound spouse lives (Romans 7:3). 

Consistency would demand that we also accept what the Lord stated in the “b” parts of Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and Luke 16:18: That the one who is put away may NOT later remarry another, regardless of subsequent conditions.  Circumstances that follow a divorce (which Jesus did not address) are not exceptions to the Lord’s rule regarding the put away!

The “a” portions of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 do not authorize remarriage for one who has divorced their mate without just cause.  Likewise, the “b” portions of Matthew 5:32; 19:9 and Luke 16:18 do not authorize remarriage for one who is put away.  Hence, it is presumptuous to assert something that Jesus did not teach (cf. II Peter 2:10). 

It is easy to see that even though the man who finalized the unlawful repudiation (putting away) of his wife, later sought to reconcile with her and repented of his sin, he still put her away. The status of “penitent,” added to the “whosoever shall put away his wife” does not change the fact that the man still unlawfully put away his wife.

Regardless of the remaining bond and his remorse after the divorce (and before his estranged wife’s fornication, which scenario Jesus did not address), he is still the man spoken of in the “a” portions of the aforementioned verses (Matthew 19:9; Luke 16:18), who is thus precluded from remarriage to another.

However, when considering the “b” portions of the aforementioned verses, just add the designation of “innocent” to those whom Jesus called “put away,” and some brethren lose all ability to apply sound logic and consistency!

When the estranged mate who perpetrated the unlawful divorce later commits post-divorce fornication, the “innocent” (put away) mate is told that he / she has “the right” to  employ an unrevealed post-divorce “putting away” (another scenario the Lord did not address) and remarry another.  Hence, the “b” portions of Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and Luke 16:18 supposedly no longer apply to this put away person!

Instead, the put away person of clause “b” is said to subsequently become the person who is now scripturally eligible to put away (as outlined in the “a” portions of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9).

There is something seriously amiss when men defend a doctrine that is diametrically opposed to our Lord’s specific and simple teaching by arguing, “Jesus didn’t address that scenario” (II Corinthians 11:3). Folks, Jesus didn’t have to deal with every possible scenario. He said, “…and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” PERIOD!

Does the Lord specifically address the scenario in which the “her that is divorced” was “innocent?” Does the Lord specifically address the scenario in which the “her that is divorced” was “innocent” and “held true to her marriage vows?” Does the Lord specifically address the scenario in which the “her that is divorced” was “innocent,” “held true to her marriage vows,” and was an unwilling participant in the divorce? Does the Lord specifically address the scenario in which this unfortunate woman’s estranged husband then subsequently commits adultery, so she employs a post-divorce repudiation for that cause?

Does the Lord specifically address a scenario in which the “her that is divorced” was a pleasant person to live with, or had children, or was abused (physically or verbally), or whose husband didn’t provide for her, or whose husband defrauded her, or whose husband made it difficult for her to live a Christian life…?

Do you see how many scenarios we could concoct to make void the Word of God and create exceptions to it that the Almighty never intended?

Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said! Therefore HIS is the ONLY scenario that is valid! What’s my point? The Lord not only precluded those who unlawfully put away from remarriage to another by calling it adultery (Matthew 19:9a; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18a; cf. Romans 7:3), He also precluded put away people (without exception) from remarriage to another while their bound spouse is alive, by calling it adultery (Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b; Luke 16:18b; cf. Romans 7:3)!

Just as we recognize and accept Jesus’ decree that subsequent marriages to another are immoral for those who unlawfully put away, we must also recognize and accept His teaching regarding those who are put away. 

Consistency demands that if unrevealed post-divorce circumstances or scenarios (which Jesus never addressed) do not change the truth of His word regarding those who put away, neither do they modify His truth regarding those who are put away.

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM